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Sharif sets new ultimatum for Pakistan coalition

Sharif sets new ultimatum for Pakistan coalition

Pakistan's ruling parties reverted Friday to a power struggle that has hamstrung their government, a day after a massive suicide attack demonstrated the need for strong leadership.
Rifts that could bring down the government have reappeared since it succeeded Monday in forcing former army strongman Pervez Musharraf to resign from the presidency.
Twin suicide blasts that killed at least 67 people outside Pakistan's main weapons-manufacturing complex Thursday were a bloody reminder of the threat to the South Asian country from Islamic extremists.
But by Friday, Pakistan's civilian leaders were back in meetings on how to restore judges ousted by Musharraf last year and who should succeed him as head of state.
Pakistan's election commission announced Friday that lawmakers will elect the new president on Sept. 6.
The party of Nawaz Sharif, a two-time former prime minister and bitter foe of Musharraf, had threatened to quit the governing coalition without an agreement by Friday.
But after talks with other coalition leaders, Sharif set Wednesday as a new deadline _ already the third since Musharraf's ouster _ for the restoration of the judges.
Sharif's party is the junior partner to the Pakistan People's Party of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto. They joined forces against Musharraf after sweeping aside his allies in February parliamentary elections.
The United States and other Western countries, who had counted for years on Musharraf to counter al-Qaida and the Taliban, hoped the democratic mandate of the new government _ dominated by moderate parties and with a sweeping majority _ would continue that fight.
Ordinary Pakistanis are even more anxious for the government to do something about the skyrocketing inflation and inequality holding much of the population in poverty.
But the two main political parties, staffed by Pakistan's narrow elite, are traditional rivals whose election pledge to restore an independent judiciary is bogged down in political maneuvering.
Sharif on Friday accused Zardari of failing to respect an agreement to bring back the justices within 24 hours of Musharraf's resignation.
Having granted smaller coalition partners a request for three extra days to consider the ramifications, he said the parties would now draw up a resolution on restoring the judges and introduce it to Parliament on Monday.
"Technically, by Aug. 19, the judges should have been reinstated," Sharif told reporters.
The resolution "should be debated on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday this resolution should be passed and the judges should be reinstated," he said.
Sharif was immediately contradicted by one of two smaller coalition parties.
"Wednesday should not be considered the final word. There could be a delay of a day or two. But you will see results in a week or so," said Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
A leader of a powerful lawyers' movement that has mounted street protests in favor of the judges issued a veiled warning against any further backsliding.
"Many promises to the nation have not been honored," Tariq Mehmood said. "If somebody thinks that people will be satisfied after Musharraf's removal, let me tell you that people want the rule of law."
Sharif argues that a simple order from the prime minister is enough to put the judges back on the bench. But Zardari has consistently blocked that, arguing that it requires a constitutional amendment.
Musharraf, who was also army chief until November, imposed emergency rule and purged the Supreme Court to prevent it from disqualifying him from continuing as a civilian president.
Zardari, like Musharraf, accuses the judges of being too political. Analysts suggest his hostility could also reflect concern that they could reopen corruption cases against him dating back to his wife's two spells as prime minister in the 1990s.
Sharif, meanwhile, may view the judges as allies if he follows through with threats to have Musharraf tried for treason _ a charge punishable by death.
Sharif has also been more reserved than Zardari about embracing Pakistan's unpopular role as a chief ally of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
Many Pakistanis argue that Musharraf's heavy-handed use of the army against militant strongholds in the northwest has only increased sympathy for the militants and emboldened them to strike back with scores of suicide bombings over the past year.
Thursday's attack in Wah, a city 22 miles (35 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad, was one of the country's deadliest-ever terrorist attacks.
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility, saying it was revenge for army operations in the Bajur region, a militant stronghold near the Afghan border.
As well as 67 confirmed dead, police said Friday that more than 100 people were wounded when the bombers struck outside two gates to the sprawling complex, just as workers were streaming through during a shift change.
The attack underscored the determination of insurgents to challenge the Pakistani state for control of swaths of territory in the troubled northwest regardless of who is in power.
Police said it could even have been worse.
Mohammed Saeed, a police official in Wah, said security forces had arrested a man they believe would have been a third bomber not far from the scene. An explosives-laden jacket was found at a nearby mosque, he said.
Police also said they were hoping to use fingerprint evidence to identify the bombers and that they were interrogating three more suspects detained near the factory to see if they were linked to the attacks.
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Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad, Asif Shahzad and Stephen Graham contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-07-31 09:22 GMT+08:00